Graffiti is a bit like tweeting, you have to squeeze your ideas into a tight little package. Which is what those who objected to the event in the Skainos Centre did when they sprayed ‘Taigs Out’ and…what was the other one? …’No IRA bombers‘. So little thought in such few words.
Those who were at the event inside the Skainos Centre would have seen Pat Magee, the man who set the Brighton bomb and Jo Berry, whose father was killed by the bomb, sitting side by side. Against every expectation, the two are friends.This wasn’t achieved by either of the two abandoning anything. Clearly Jo Berry can’t cast off the grief that her father’s death created. But she can and is dealing with that grief in a constructive way, by showing how good can grow out of horror.
Pat Magee last night – as he always does in such talks – made it clear that he is not seeking forgiveness for what he did. He made a conscious choice, he told his audience, to join the IRA at the age of twenty, and as an IRA volunteer he chose to set the bomb that killed Anthony Berry and others. Although now keenly aware of the suffering he has created, he accepts responsibility for his actions
Magee is a highly intelligent man (he has a Ph D – although you’re right, Virginia, that doesn’t guarantee intelligence). He has thought about his life, the road he took, the results of those decisions. He has found a way in which, while not saying “I was totally wrong, I apologise”, to reach out to someone whose life was fractured by his actions.
Jo Berry is a remarkable woman. Clearly a woman of high intelligence as well as enormous empathy, she has found a way to become friends with a man for whom it would have been so easy to cultivate loathing and rejection. She could have spent her life nursing her pain and lobbying politicians to reject all that Magee stood and stands for. Instead she has made a leap of understanding which surely humbles us all.
If you want to see reconciliation and progress, look at and listen to Pat Magee and Jo Berry. If you want to see gnat-sized thought and self-destructive hatred, consider the messages sprayed on the Skainos Centre. We are blessed to live in a world that has people like Pat Magee and Jo Berry. We are cursed to live in a world that contains East Belfast’s graffiti-artists.